cheryl6of8's review against another edition

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3.0

This book had a lot of great history in it and it changed my perspective on some pivotal figures in American history, leaving me more favorably inclined toward both Cotton Mather and Benjamin Franklin, neither of whom I really liked at all prior to this. And it sure did have a lot of parallels to the present time and the present pandemic and the political rhetoric and the commercial inclinations of a free press and the role of public figures in private lives. But I would have liked it more if either the writing style had been slightly less academic or the audiopresentation had been slightly less broadcast journalism. One or the other would have made it easier to follow for more than 20 minutes at a stretch without zoning out As it was, some parts were a real struggle and since the audiobook I had was in MP3 format, with tracks of approx 30 minutes a piece, I didn't always want to go back and start a section over to catch what I had missed.

My takeaways were that more of us should know about Dr. Zabdiel Boyleston who risked so much to try innoculation in order to save the lives of his fellow Bostonians during the epidemic. And who performed one of the first successful mastectomies as treatment for breast cancer. Plus he was a clean freak so a lot more of his patients survived surgery before handwashing was a thing for doctors, let alone patients. An excellent and brave man who was mistreated by officials and Dr. Douglas, who had his own interests in seeing more people die and no extraordinary measures undertaken to address the outbreak. Also that James Franklin should be well known in his own right and not as the mean old brother that Ben was apprenticed to -- he is responsible for much of the American style of print journalism and was a boisterous defender of freedom of the press whose ideas, communicated in his newspaper, shaped the ideas of those who 50 years later would sign the Declaration of Independence. He was also quite gutsy if for less noble seeming reasons, probably because he was a cantankerous sort. But he helped to shape much of what was good about Benjamin Franklin (who I still think was a self-centered mysogynistic old bastard).

Definitely worth the read if you are into history, although I think it might be easier to tackle this one in print than to ear-read it as I did.

munchkindad's review against another edition

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informative medium-paced

3.5

intoxicating_reads's review against another edition

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4.0

I just finished reading a book about the Salem with trials and I won this book as a first reads giveaway. It worked perfectly to pick up where my other book left off and to see what was going on in MA following the trials. One of the main individuals in this book is Cotton Mather and I think that with the additional background about his role in the witch trials really helped to understand what he was doing and how he was treated. However, even without knowing about the witch trials, this book was very detailed and informative. It nicely weaved several three different topics: inoculation, the american revolution and freedom of the press together showing how you can never really know how your actions will shape the fate of the future.

bethh609's review

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4.0

This was an excellent book! Great research was used to construct a rounded narrative that explicated a complex time line with ease and gave life to familiar historical figures. I highly recommend this book.

ellsbeth's review

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4.0

This is a fascinating book about a pivotal smallpox epidemic in pre-Revolutionary Boston. It delves into this multi-faceted history, explaining the impact of this even on the development of immunizations, the freedom of the press and the 1st amendment, the lead up to the American Revolution, and more. The history seems very relevant to current events. I was happy to learn more about Cotton Mather, Benjamin Franklin, and the significant contributions of James Franklin.

The audio narrator, Bob Sour, lends an authoritative voice to the story that kept my interest. The only drawback I had in listening to this book was that I tried to spread it out. In doing so, I found myself losing track of the various players and events of the story. I suggest a more compact listen to more easily keep track of the various threads. I’ll be recommending this book to others and I look forward to reading more from Stephen Coss. Note: I received a free copy of this book from the LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

darwinstoffees's review against another edition

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4.0

The first half was extremely dry and in modern non-fiction I've come to expect a bit more or the non-fiction. That said the second half when it became more about James Franklin and Benjamin and the advent of printing and the freedom of press it became much better. That said I was actually a bit more interested in the story of Boylston and Inoculation. Overall it's a really great history of the start of America becoming separated from England and the planting of seeds of freedom and revolution, but I think that leaves Boylston and the patients of inoculation a little shorted.

readclever's review

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5.0

If you're unaware of Boston's history and legacy of helping to seed the American Revolution, the book is great. A lot of background on the players, ranging from Cotton Mathers to the Franklins to Elisha Cook's pursuit of an independent colony. All of this political intrigue across a small pox epidemic that would change how the world viewed the illness. While Dr. Boylston performs inoculations, legally and illegally, the press and government wage war in a messy triangle that's nearly impossible to untangle at certain parts.

Coss offers not just many, many primary source information but the connections in a small town of only 13,000. He spends a lot of time making sure readers understand every level of interplay without preaching. For a first book, this is a pretty high standard to beat on his next. What is more interesting is that fact his research offers so much history that schools never teach, like the smallpox epidemics outside the Native American community, and how it could shut or revive a contested government in the blink of an eye.

The most surprising information, for me, was two-fold: learning Mathers' legacy and need for acceptance long after the Salem Witch Trials and how James Franklin's defiance set the stage for press freedom and anti-inoculation rhetoric at the same time. Even as a more middle of the road businessman, Franklin used the paper to not only lampoon authority, including Mathers, but also to create a more sensationalistic view of the news. Meanwhile Mathers battled and lost to demons of old while also winning some prestige, even while not taking it.

In December 1724, a meeting with Ben Franklin offered a smart piece of advice: "Stoop as you go through it [life/world], and you will miss many thumps" (281). The message was clear and offered a lot of profound observation at the end of Mathers' life. The egotistical and vain minister had learned a few lessons in this latest battle for legacy.

Dense and full of ends, the book overs a lot of information I found fascinating as non-American history buff. Definitely worth a read on how American's flagrant ignorance of government ploys helped to create the road to vaccinations and a more critical press.

readclever's review against another edition

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5.0

If you're unaware of Boston's history and legacy of helping to seed the American Revolution, the book is great. A lot of background on the players, ranging from Cotton Mathers to the Franklins to Elisha Cook's pursuit of an independent colony. All of this political intrigue across a small pox epidemic that would change how the world viewed the illness. While Dr. Boylston performs inoculations, legally and illegally, the press and government wage war in a messy triangle that's nearly impossible to untangle at certain parts.

Coss offers not just many, many primary source information but the connections in a small town of only 13,000. He spends a lot of time making sure readers understand every level of interplay without preaching. For a first book, this is a pretty high standard to beat on his next. What is more interesting is that fact his research offers so much history that schools never teach, like the smallpox epidemics outside the Native American community, and how it could shut or revive a contested government in the blink of an eye.

The most surprising information, for me, was two-fold: learning Mathers' legacy and need for acceptance long after the Salem Witch Trials and how James Franklin's defiance set the stage for press freedom and anti-inoculation rhetoric at the same time. Even as a more middle of the road businessman, Franklin used the paper to not only lampoon authority, including Mathers, but also to create a more sensationalistic view of the news. Meanwhile Mathers battled and lost to demons of old while also winning some prestige, even while not taking it.

In December 1724, a meeting with Ben Franklin offered a smart piece of advice: "Stoop as you go through it [life/world], and you will miss many thumps" (281). The message was clear and offered a lot of profound observation at the end of Mathers' life. The egotistical and vain minister had learned a few lessons in this latest battle for legacy.

Dense and full of ends, the book overs a lot of information I found fascinating as non-American history buff. Definitely worth a read on how American's flagrant ignorance of government ploys helped to create the road to vaccinations and a more critical press.

amberinoface's review against another edition

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3.0

interesting, yet super dry.

maebinnig's review against another edition

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4.0

I was surprised to see that The Fever of 1721 is Stephen Coss's first book. It's so ambitious in scope and thoroughly researched that it matches up against the works of well-established historians and biographers.

The book's main threads are the American colonies beginning to reject distant leadership, Elisha Cooke and the beginning of "populist" politics, James & Benjamin Franklin and the origins of America's philosophy of free speech and free press, and of course, the fight to get inoculation accepted as a treatment for smallpox--in many ways the most significant medical trial in America. The many threads sometimes make the narrative feel scattered, but I see why Coss was compelled to include all of them.

Don't get me wrong--at no point are you going to forget that you're reading a history book. The beginning, especially, takes a bit of effort to get through. But it's fascinating reading, especially if you're already a bit of a history buff.

(I received this book for free through a Goodreads giveaway.)